Got High Concept: The Key to Dynamic Fiction that Sells!
WHAT HIGH CONCEPT CAN DO FOR YOU
- Propel your manuscript out of the slush pile.
- Razzle-dazzle editors.
- Spur agents to contact you based on a one sentence blurb.
- Trigger publishers to open their wallets.
- Rush readers into stores as soon as your book is released.
- Impress the media.
- Stimulate industry buzz.
- Jump-start foreign sales.
- Earn you a bigger advance.
- Inspire Hollywood to come knocking.
This workbook is designed to provide you with the tools you’ll need to mold your story idea into an intriguing one sentence pitch that can magically unlock closed doors. If you put in the time and follow the precepts in this workbook, you’ll be stunned by both the increase in your creativity and the response you’ll see from the publishing industry.
A word of caution. High concept is not a substitute for honing your craft. Rather, it’s simply the most effective way to capture an editor or agent’s interest. Now, let’s get down to business and learn how to create those high concepts.
WHY HIGH CONCEPT?
Readers respond to high concepts because we yearn for stories that entertain, teach and provide us with thrills and emotional catharsis. The very best high concepts feature sympathetic characters that we can root for. Our most beloved protagonists are ordinary Joes or Janes who are moved to accomplish extraordinary things. Or else he is an extraordinary human being whom can give us a taste of who we could really become. Or she is the underdog, with the odds so stacked against her, who makes us feel compassion, admiration and suspense
Contrary to popular notions, high concepts are not limited to over-the-top suspense or thrillers. High concept is at the heart of every genre—romance, mysteries, horror, comedies, westerns, chick-lit, lad-lit, sci-fi, time travel & women’s fiction.
High concept is not just a marketing gimmick. It is the very foundation of great commercial fiction. It’s true that publishers love high concept stories, but that’s because catchy ideas and rip-roaring characters are easier to pitch and sell.
Although many credit Tinseltown with inventing high concept, the idea originated long before movies ever existed. You can see high concept at work in Shakespeare and Greek tragedies. In operas and ballads. You’ll find it in Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities and Huckleberry Finn. High concept is here to stay for one very good reason. It works.
WHAT IS HIGH CONCEPT?
Today, the literary marketplace is more competitive than ever. Learning to craft an effective high concept idea will increase your chances for long-term career survival. When you hear of brand new authors getting six figure deals it’s usually because they had a dynamic high concept. A novice writer with a high concept stands a better chance of selling her book than a mid-list author without a high concept. High concept writing is an essential skill for the modern writer to develop.
The purpose of a high concept is to succinctly deliver your ideas to an editor or agent, but what is it exactly? There are five central components to the high concept.
- It’s different.
- It’s universal.
- It has instant emotional appeal.
- You can immediately visualize the entire story.
- It can be stated in one sentence.
WHAT HIGH CONCEPT IS NOT
- A high concept is not “Jaws” meets “The African Queen”.
Comparing one movie to another is a framing technique. While you can use it to prep an editor to let them know what’s coming next—your high concept pitch—it’s not a high concept.
- A high concept is not like the blurb on the back of a book.
Yes, a blurb and a high concept are both marketing tools. But a blurb is longer and directed toward convincing readers to buy. The high concept is geared toward convincing publishers.
- A high concept is not simply a TV-guide style summary.
A summary doesn’t deliver the vivid picture needed to capture an editor imagination. It doesn’t “show” the emotional story.
- A high concept is not merely a series of hooks.
One common mistake fiction writers make is thinking that if they just throw in enough hooks and twists they’ll have a high concept. Wrong. Since the high concept craze was popularized by Hollywood, let’s examine a few examples of high concept movies to clarify.
A cocky cop must find a way to save people stranded on a city bus that will explode if is slows below 55 mph.—Speed
- It’s different—exploding bus
- It’s universal—almost everyone has taken a bus at one time
- Emotional appeal—life or death stakes
- You can see the entire story—if bus slows down, it goes boom
When a young wife discovers the husband she’s convicted of murdering isn’t dead, she escapes custody to track him down and kill him.—Double Jeopardy
- It’s different—double jeopardy
- Universal—betrayal by a spouse
- See entire story—hunts down husband who framed her, can’t be prosecuted for the same crime twice
A young and broke Will Shakespeare falls in love, inspiring him to write “Romeo and Juliet”, but ultimately he forsakes his beloved for his muse.—Shakespeare in Love
- It’s different—the playwright behind the play
- Universal—falling in love
- Emotional—lost love
- Sees entire story—Shakespeare falling in love, but choosing his work over his woman.
Teenage girl discovers she’s the princess of small European country and must endure “princess lessons” from her grandmother.—The Princess Diaries
- It’s different—ordinary girl is really a princess
- Universal—every girl dreams of being a princess
- Emotional—transformation story
- See entire story—young girl goes from being ordinary teen to the princess of a country.
Videotape kills anyone who watches it within a week.—The Ring
- It’s different—a killer videotape
- Universal—Pandora’s box
- Emotional—fear of technology, allure of the forbidden
- See entire story—people are going to feel compelled to watch the video and they’ll die.
Embattled husband-and-wife assassins wind up hunting each other.—Mr. and Mrs. Smith
- It’s different—married assassins
- Universal—marriage in conflict
- Emotional—love versus duty
- See entire story—A married couple hired to kill each other
Simple, right? Not so fast. While high concept is easy enough to understand, it’s not so simple to pull off. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. You shouldn’t labor under the illusion that this is a quick fix. A 25 word pitch is as difficult to write as a 400 page novel. But don’t get discouraged. You’re about to learn everything you need to know to craft those all-powerful high concepts.